An open letter to Republican Presidential Nominee Donald TrumpRev. Dr. William J. Barber / July 8, 2016
Editor’s Note: The following letter was penned by Rev. Barber in advance of Donald Trump’s July 5 campaign rally in Raleigh, N.C.Your campaign, like the leadership of our Legislature and Governor, does not represent the politics of Lincoln, the call of justice, or the ethics of Biblical evangelicalism. Instead, your campaign presents an extremist philosophy of hate, greed, racism, classism, and xenophobia.
You are speaking in North Carolina on the day after the Fourth of July. On July 5, 1852, Frederick Douglass spoke to the Ladies’ Anti-Slavery Society in Rochester, New York and asked, “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?” Today, I ask you, “What to North Carolinians is the meaning of your campaign for President?”
So far, your campaign as the Republican nominee for President does not represent the ideals of Abraham Lincoln, the Republican who signed the Emancipation Proclamation and supported African Americans in their quest for freedom and citizenship.
Your campaign does not represent the moral vision of Teddy Roosevelt, who promoted health care for all, a minimum/living wage, support for public education, environmental protection and labor rights.
Your campaign does not represent the ideals of Abraham Galloway, an African American who rallied Blacks to serve in the Union Army during the Civil War and helped found the Republican Party in North Carolina. Nor does your campaign represent the ideals of Bishop J.W. Hood, a Black Republican from North Carolina who helped craft North Carolina’s constitution during Reconstruction to include public education and equal protection under the law as constitutional rights afforded to every citizen. And who also became a national leader in the African Methodist Episcopal Church. These Republicans all believed in equality, voting rights, public education, and decent wages. We do not object to Republican leadership as such, but to its failure to honor its own heritage.
Despite your support from people like Franklin Graham and Jerry Falwell Jr., — people who claim to be evangelists—neither your views nor theirs are authentic evangelicalism.
According to many scriptural texts, such as Isaiah 10:50, Luke 4, and Matthew 25, evangelicalism begins with a critique of a system of economic exploitation that keeps the poor in poverty and denies them living wages and decent housing. Biblical evangelicalism understands that there is a need for just and welcoming policies that take into consideration the needs of the poor, sick, imprisoned and immigrants.
Biblical evangelicalism is always rooted in love, mercy, and justice. The alleged evangelicals your campaign appears to court have instead created a borderline heresy that defines morality solely by anti-abortion, anti-gay, pro-gun, pro-tax cuts, and pro-prayer in school policies. The Gospel’s central focus on the welfare of the poor and vulnerable among us does not seem relevant to this vaunted evangelicalism.
True biblical evangelicalism never has to pit groups of people against one another as in the “Southern strategies” of George Wallace and Richard Nixon. We regret to say that so far you seem to follow that path.
And so we ask you, what does your candidacy mean for us here in North Carolina? Will you seek to bring us together in a spirit of justice and mercy?
Do you support the restoration of the Voting Rights Act here in a state that passed the worst voter suppression law in the country?
Do you support Medicaid expansion in a state where 500,000 eligible are being denied healthcare—of which 346,000 are White, 30,000 are veterans, and 90 percent are the working poor?
Do you support criminal justice reform in a state where more people, especially Black men, have been exonerated from Death Row than any other state?
Do you support a living wage in a state where nearly 80 percent of the population support raising the minimum wage and 1.9 million are currently living in poverty?
Do you support environmental protections in a state with the worst coal ash spills in the nation?
Do you support immigration reform in a state with one of the harshest anti-immigration bills in the country, where school children have been separated from their families by Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials?
Do you support public education policies that resist re-segregation and high poverty schools?
We noticed that you seemed to oppose the anti-LGBT House Bill 2 at first. Do you now support the complete repeal of HB2 and its attacks on the LGBT community, working poor, and those who experience employment discrimination?
Do you welcome North Carolina’s Muslims and stand against the denunciation of an entire religion, especially in a state where Muslim students have been murdered in hate crimes and where we currently have Muslims serving in our armed forces?
Mr. Trump, you and many in your camp say that you are not a racist at heart, though Republican leaders acknowledge the racist content of some of your assertions. You say you love Latinos and care about the sick and the poor. You say that you are not xenophobic.
Please back up your claims with concrete policies. That is where we have to look to determine these things—not just in your heart, but in the potential impact at the heart of policies you propose.
So far, your candidacy, like the leadership of the North Carolina General Assembly and Governor McCrory represents a form of extremism that has worked to hijack the Republican Party, especially in the South.
Your campaign has shown us what is at stake. We are fighting a battle between hate and hope—the hope of our nation is at stake.
When you come to North Carolina, remember that you are in the birthplace of the sit-in movement. You are in the state where Dr. King first delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech in Rocky Mount. You are in a state with a long history of interracial “fusion” politics that has sometimes transcended racial lines.
So far, your candidacy does not resonate with our highest values and best traditions, but instead offers an eerie representation of hate, meanness, and xenophobia that has not been so blatantly broadcast on the national landscape since George Wallace’s Presidential campaigns of 1968 and 1972.
Still, we understand that you alone are not to blame. You are a product of the “Southern strategy” that was designed to pit Black and Brown and White against each other. Since 1968, the “Southern strategy” lexicon has used code words like “state rights,” “entitlement reform” and “tax cuts.” This “Southern strategy” has undermined public schools and used the word “liberal” as a racially coded phrase.
This extremist approach has sought to stir up divisions and keep White, Black, and Brown, especially the poor, from interracial “fusion” coalitions that promote a shared prosperity and would undermine a racist and greedy oligarchy.
You have taken the “Southern strategy” a step further. In the past, its devotees would hide behind code words. What you are saying was only supposed to be in the backroom, not on the platform. There is something to be said for candor, but in your case it poisons our civil society.
In this state—in our Moral Movement, we have stood together by the thousands with Black, Brown, Asian, Native American, young, old, rich, poor, gay, straight, Jews, Muslims, Christians, Hindus, and people without faith who believe in a moral universe.
Our “fusion” politics are a proud legacy here. We saw the power of fusion politics when formerly enslaved and White North Carolinians came together during Reconstruction, started the first state public school system in the South and expanded our democracy. We continue to see fusion politics today as our coalition resists regressive legislation.
We also have painful reminders of what can happen when fusion coalitions face backlash from those who use fear and hate to race-bait themselves into power.
We know that what we need from any candidate for public office, regardless of their political affiliation, is a moral agenda centered in policies that establish justice, promote the general welfare, provide for the common good, and help us to join hands as we all move forward together. These are the ideals the better angels that should be at the center of our public debate and discourse.
Rev. Dr. William J Barber II is the president of the N.C. NAACP.